May 6, 2011, 1:50 PM

Gas prices drive shoppers online

28% of U.S. consumers are shopping online more because of rising gas costs.

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Pain at the pump? Not for these shoppers. More than 28% of U.S. consumers say they are shopping online more because of rising gas costs, according to a survey conducted exclusively for Internet Retailer by Synovate, a global market research firm.

National average gasoline prices have shot up $1.07 per gallon in the last year to an average this week of $3.96, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  And many consumers recognize that they can drive less if they shop the web more, the Synovate survey shows.

The survey, conducted online Apr. 28 - May 1, asked 1,000 U.S. adults whether the recent rise in gas costs had led them to do more shopping online rather than travel to stores. 28.2% answered yes, with consumers in the Northeast and Midwest leading the pack, each at 31.5%. Fewer consumers in the South (26.8%) and West (24.5%) answered the same. Gas prices this week were the highest in the West and Midwest, where the average cost per gallon was $4.14 and $4.01, respectively. Consumers in the Rocky Mountain and Gulf Coast regions, as defined by the EIA, paid the least, at $3.70 and $3.81, respectively. The Rocky Mountain area is included in Synovate’s West category and the Gulf Coast in the South region.

More than one-third of consumers living in areas with a population density—defined as the total population of a defined metropolitan area and its adjacent counties—of 50,000 to 100,000 said they were shopping more online because of higher gas costs, 35.1%. According to the Census Bureau, this would include areas like Casper, WY, and Grand Forks, ND. 35.9% of consumers living in areas with 1 million to 2 million residents, such as Providence, RI, and Cleveland, OH, said the same.

Fewer shoppers, but still more than a fourth, living in extremely rural areas said they were shopping more online because of higher gas costs (26.3%).  

The impact of high gas prices may already be showing up in e-retail sales.April online retail sales were up 19.2% year over year, according to MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse report that tracks retail sales using all payment forms, including credit and debit cards of all brands, cash and checks.

Michael McNamara, vice president, research and analysis for MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse, says higher gas prices will likely boost online sales.  “We can expect consumers to make fewer shopping trips, especially on weekends, and this may contribute to an ever stronger growth for e-commerce,” he says.

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